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The Grail, the Quest, and the World of Arthur

The Grail, the Quest, and the World of Arthur

Edited by Norris J. Lacy
Volume: 72
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    The Grail, the Quest, and the World of Arthur
    Book Description:

    The theme of the quest in Arthurian literature - mainly but not exclusively the Grail quest - is explored in the essays presented here, covering French, Dutch, Norse, German, and English texts. A number of the essays trace the relationship, often negative, between Arthurian chivalry and the Grail ethos. Whereas most of the contributors reflect on the popularity of the Grail quest, several examine the comparative rarity of the Grail in certain literatures and define the elaboration of quest motifs severed from the Grail material. An appendix to the volume offers a filmography that includes all the cinematic treatments of the Grail, either as central theme or minor motif. This book will appeal to students, scholars, and general readers fascinated by the Arthurian and Grail legends. CONTRIBUTORS: NORRIS J. LACY, ANTONIO FURTADO, WILL HASTY, RICHARD TRACHSLER, MARIANNE E. KALINKE, MARTINE MEUWESE, DAVID F. JOHNSON, PHILLIP BOARDMAN, CAROLINE D. ECKHARDT, P.J.C. FIELD, JAMES P. CARLEY, RICHARD BARBER, KEVIN J. HARTY.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-020-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    NORRIS J. LACY and N.J.L.

    To suggest that the quest was a pervasive theme in Arthurian (and other) literature of the Middle Ages seriously understates the matter. Quests and adventures are the very essence of romance. Moreover, multiple adventures occur frequently in the course of a quest, almost as if the quest has as one of its purposes to provide the very narrative space within which adventures can occur, often at great length and in extended sequences. The suggestion that the quest either permits or sponsors adventures is supported in texts such as the French Vulgate Cycle of the thirteenth century: in that cycle and...

  6. 1 Introduction: Arthur and/or the Grail
    (pp. 1-12)

    In John Boorman’s 1981 film Excalibur, we find a lethargic, ill and passive King Arthur in a land that is waste and sterile. There appears to be no remedy for either the court or the land until Arthur has an inspired idea: the Grail quest. He says that they must seek what was lost; they must seek the Grail. We are not told how Arthur knows about the Grail’s power, and even more remarkably, we are not told why, since he does know, from whatever source, that the Grail is their salvation, he did not announce the quest earlier. Puzzling...

  7. 2 The Shape of the Grail in Medieval Art
    (pp. 13-27)

    What exactly is the Grail and what shape does it have? Is it a dish, a bowl, a chalice, a ciborium or a stone? Is it made of wood, stone, silver or gold? The answers to these questions vary from text to text. In the numerous medieval literary works in which it appears, the Grail assumes many forms and functions. Most often the Grail is supposed to have been used by Christ during the Last Supper and to have been entrusted to Joseph of Arimathea, who used it to catch the blood flowing from the wounds of Christ at the...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. 3 The Crusaders’ Grail
    (pp. 28-47)

    The prologue to Le Conte du Graal (henceforward, the Romance) seems to reveal that a complex combination of purposes guided the composition of the unfinished masterpiece of Chrétien de Troyes.¹ First of all, the author was writing by command of Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders, who would have given him a ‘book’, on which, presumably, the narrative should be based. On the other hand, independently of the book’s contents, he would like to please his patron, and what could be more agreeable to Philip than seeing his exploits celebrated in the new work he had ordered?²

    The historical circumstances...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 4 Bounds of Imagination: Grail Questing and Chivalric Colonizing in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival
    (pp. 48-61)

    The Arthurian and Grail narratives of the High Middle Ages, particularly by means of their adventures and quests, occupied a new territory in the imagination of Western Europe. In a manner that might be likened to the expansion of Europe and Europeans in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries into the Holy Land in the Crusades,¹ and of Germans from their population concentrations close to the Rhine into the eastern territories,² the courtly-chivalric romances – via their basic dynamic of movement from courtly-chivalric centers outward – find their way in wild, often uncharted landscapes, full of dangers, and upon overcoming them, claim and...

  12. 5 The Land without the Grail: A Note on Occitania, Rigaut de Barbezieux and Literary History
    (pp. 62-75)

    Little is left today of the once flourishing literary activity in the South of France, and much debate has arisen as to what exactly has been lost. Given the scarceness of surviving testimonies regarding the matière de Bretagne in the South, especially compared with the mass of Arthurian texts preserved in the langue d’oïl, critics, particularly those who argue for the priority of Occitan literature over its northern rival, have attempted to make up for quantity with quality. They console themselves with the thought that the Arthurian tradition in the South may not be very visible today but might in...

  13. 6 Female Desire and the Quest in the Icelandic Legend of Tristram and Ísodd
    (pp. 76-91)

    French romance was introduced to Norway in translation in the year 1226. The work in question was Thomas de Bretagne’s Tristran, known in Old Norse as Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar. The saga, the only complete member of the Thomas branch of the Tristan legend, was translated at the behest of the Norwegian King Hákon Hákonarson (r. 1217–63) by a certain Brother Robert.¹ Today the source text is extant solely in fragmentary form, while its other derivative text, Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan, is incomplete. The Norwegian translation thus plays an extraordinary role in assessing the courtly version of the Tristan...

  14. 7 Questing in the Middle Dutch Lancelot Compilation
    (pp. 92-108)

    In a volume that deals largely with the Quest for the Holy Grail, my contribution may stand out by its failure to do so. The manuscript I wish to discuss here does indeed contain a version of the Queste, and I will have something to say about it. But it contains a great many other ‘quests’, which take many forms, and ultimately it is the quest to find meaning in the composition of the manuscript as a whole that forms this paper’s central concern.

    Perhaps the single most important witness to the Dutch Arthurian tradition is MS The Hague, Koninklijke...

  15. 8 Keeping Company: Manuscript Contexts for Reading Arthurian Quest Narratives
    (pp. 109-125)

    Like Chaucer’s narrator, we too look eagerly upon books written with old letters: one of the characteristics of current research in medieval studies is a renewed attention to the manuscript book as a material object whose physical structure, ink, parchment or paper, sequence of adjacent texts, annotations and other traits can constitute guides to the cultural roles that the book played and to questions of ownership, readership and interpretation.² To mention just two examples, much has been learned about the circulation and transmission of Arthurian historiography, as in Lister Matheson’s study that inventoried the more than 240 manuscripts of the...

  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  17. 9 Grail and Quest in the Medieval English World of Arthur
    (pp. 126-140)

    The focus of this volume, which perceives the World of Arthur through the dual lenses of the Grail and the Quest, reveals some interesting problems with respect to medieval English Arthurian literature, and in this chapter I want to explore sketchily some of these problems. Our almost reflexive linking of the two terms, in ‘Grail Quest’, assumes a marriage that, in late medieval England at least, is rocky. The quest is certainly an important mode of adventure in the English world of Arthur, with testing as its energetic center. But in England, the search for the Grail has only a...

  18. 10 Malory and the Grail: The Importance of Detail
    (pp. 141-155)
    P.J.C. FIELD

    The word grail is generally used nowadays to mean something unknown but supremely important and desirable, which, if it can be discovered, will transform the world in which the grail exists. So, for instance, it could be said that the Holy Grail of twentieth-century physics was a ‘Theory of Everything’. This use of the word grail is a metaphorical development of stories that grew up in the Middle Ages within the Arthurian legend. The metaphorical sense fits all of them, but they have little else in common. As R.S. Loomis said, they seem to delight in contradicting each other on...

  19. 11 Glastonbury, the Grail-Bearer and the Sixteenth-Century Antiquaries
    (pp. 156-172)

    As its title suggests, this chapter deals with the world of the printed book, when the Arthurian story was known in England primarily through Malory’s encyclopedic Morte Darthur. Although Caxton’s edition of the Morte continued to be reprinted throughout the sixteenth century, the comments of Queen Elizabeth’s tutor Roger Ascham in The scolemaster are representative of the mid-Tudor response to Malory. Ascham roundly condemned

    Le Morte d’Arthur, the whole pleasure of which booke standeth in two speciall poyntes, in open manslaughter and bold bawdrye: in which book they are counted the noblest knights that do kill most men without any...

  20. 12 The Grail Quest: Where Next?
    (pp. 173-184)

    It seems extraordinary to think that when I finished my book on the Grail five years ago, no one had ever heard of The Da Vinci Code. Perhaps the world was a better place without it, but the book’s immense popularity catapulted the Grail into the public consciousness even more effectively than Monty Python and the Holy Grail had done two decades earlier. I would like to take a look at the world of recent Grail scholarship, where I hope that such fantasies have not yet taken root. Let us take as a starting point a book published fifty years...

  21. Appendix: The Grail on Film
    (pp. 185-206)
  22. Index
    (pp. 207-214)
    (pp. i-xxiv)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-255)